The UW Sailing team sent singlehanders Erik Skeel and Laura Smit to Nationals in Florida. They’ll bring back some hard-earned experience to this very fun, very active team. Go Dawgs! Here’s Erik Skeel’s report:
Each year in September, college sailors from Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia compete in Lasers to qualify for college sailing singlehanded nationals. This year the qualifying regatta was held at Shilshole. After one day of good racing Laura Smit from University of Washington was leading the woman’s fleet in radials, and I held first place in the men’s fleet in the full rig by just one point. In typical Northwest fashion the second day of the regatta refused to have enough wind to race. The Radial Fleet didn’t get off any races so Laura earned the woman’s berth to nationals. One race was completed in the men’s fleet, but it bumped me to second, leaving University of British Columbia in first. UBC decided not to go to nationals despite earning the berth, so I found myself booking plane tickets to Florida for nationals.
Singlehanded Nationals was held the first weekend of November, so as Seattle was getting covered in snow, Laura and I were flying to sunny Florida. Laser Performance outfitted all 18 sailors in each fleet with brand new Laser hulls, spars, rigging, and Mark II sails for the full rigs. To the other sailors from schools such as Stanford, Yale, and College of Charleston, this probably was not far from what they usually raced with, but I was blown away; I’d never even sailed with a Mark II sail. It quickly became clear that I was one of the only sailors without a paid varsity coach and I think I was the only sailor in the men’s fleet without a coach present who could offer support and advice on the water. The atmosphere was a stark contrast to the college sailing I was used to in the Pacific Northwest, but I tried not to let that discourage me.
Report time was 9:00am on Saturday, but everyone was already rigged by then and soon after began launching for a 10:00am start. The wind was a solid 5-8 knots in the morning until it dropped around 2:00. Racing was tough, but I had expected that as I was competing against the best college sailors in the nation. After all, among those in the regatta was 2016 Olympian Stefano Peschiera and others who will probably campaign for the Olympics. Due to the lack of wind in the previous afternoon, the first warning on Sunday was 9:00am. The wind, though slightly weaker than the previous morning, was shiftier, making for more variable scores among the competitors. With one day of racing under my belt, I had a better idea of how to approach such a competitive start and how to fight for clear air while still playing the shifts and sailing a strategic path. There was no room for error with such a talented fleet. If I ever missed a shift, took a risk that didn’t pay, or lost too much speed on a maneuver, I’d find myself suddenly fighting not to get last. Despite the incredible competition from sailors who had much better training and resources than me, when I sailed my best I was able to hang with the best sailors. On Sunday I had a couple races where I rounded the first mark in the top five. It was an honor to represent the Northwest college district at nationals. Men’s Results. Women’s Results.
There may be nothing as worthwhile as messing about in boats, unless it’s specifically racing the Laser Master Worlds. For the 300+ “mature” (35 years old +) sailors, it’s a chance to enjoy sailboat racing in one of its purest forms, against an international crowd who are as interested in having an enjoyable regatta as winning it. It’s a long, tough regatta for a sailor of any age and the quality of racing is quite extraordinary.
Pacific Northwest Lasers outdid themselves this year in Split, Croatia. Bill Symes (Portland) won the Great Grand Master Radial, Al Clark (Vancouver) in the Grand Master Standard Rigand Deirdre Webster (Portland) in the Women’s 75+ all won their divisions. But more than victory on the water, the event and venue were by all reports tremendous. Bill and Al both sent in reports, and we’re lucky to have them. Reading Coach Al’s piece really gives an insight into the racing aspect end of things, especially the psychology, within the lead group.
Championships aside, Greg Jackson, who raced in the Great Grandmaster full rig division, had every bit as much fun if he was “making the top half of the fleet possible.” See a little video below.
These photos by Duje Petric were all lifted from the event’s Facebook site. To scroll through all those excellent photo galleries is to see a lot of fit “mature” sailors having a lot of fun with one of the world’s simplest, yet most challenging, boats. Click on any photo to enlarge.
Report from Al Clark
2017 has been busy for me with my full time position at Royal Vancouver YC as their head coach. Duties included coaching our Laser/Radial high school aged sailors. Also I coached 29’ers at their Midwinters in March and Worlds in August. I particularly enjoyed these high level events with some very talented sailors. I love to learn about new boats and get all the pieces together to help them go fast the right way.
The third component has been coaching some of our Race Team alumni, Kyle Martin in his Finn (Miami OCR and Sailing World Cup Final) and Isabella Bertold (Delta Lloyd and Worlds in Holland) .
I watched and competed in about 17 regattas, 8 major events in 2017. So I would say I saw plenty of high level sailing and have come up with ideas over the years how to get to the front of the fleet.
My training for this year’s Worlds (Vacation time for me with my wife Sharon ) was very minimal. I wasn’t sure I had the mental energy to attend but signed up believing that when the time came I would be excited to race.
I did sail a local regatta in early July in Radials and then sailed the US Nationals in Lake Tahoe later that month. I kept in decent shape at my Crossfit gym and riding my bike .
On water training prior to to worlds was a few days in early September, and then it was on the plane to Croatia with the idea of sailing at the site. I had chartered a private boat and was able to start practicing Sunday September 17th, so with the practice race on the Saturday the 23rd, I had the week to work up to race trim.
I bought a carbon top section and had a new sail, and added my own hiking strap and compass (I use the compass quite a bit these days) . Generally I was quite happy with the boat (I really like the new boats from LP) and the gear by the end of the week.
I have marks for my vang, outhaul and cunningham. I find that when I feel the boat is fast with certain adjustments I make a note of it and try to keep that in mind. An example is I had 2 distinct marks on my vang for puffs and lulls in the 6-10 its we sailed a lot in. My outhaul marks are for upwind, a 1-5 scale on my deck.
The practice race (I sailed one lap) went well and I had decided to start near the favoured end then go on the first shift. Andy Roy was first off the pin then tacked , Peter Vessella was fast off the boat and I trailed both of them at the weather mark. I was in about 6th by the end of the run . Generally happy with my execution. The breeze was about 6 knots .
One of the factors for this event became clear after the practice race . The sail out to the race course was going to be about an hour and a half each day with at least an hour sail in . The wind didn’t happen till about noon each day (if it happened at all) so we were going to have long days on the water with lots of waiting . As a coach I am used to this .
The silver lining for me is that all the sailing out then in gave me plenty of time in the boat and I know that as I get the “feel” back I can be very quick in moderate wind in the Standard rig.
I was training whenever I wasn’t racing . Also entering the harbour each day there was no wind so I had a chance to work on roll tacks and gybes.
The first two days of the regatta (Sunday and Monday) we had no wind so there was a lot of catching up with old friends . Monday was cancelled early so after chatting with some of the guys I was walking home and noticed there wad a late afternoon breeze so I went sailing for a few hours . I really like sailing everyday when I’m at these events , even for a short time.
The Tuesday we had a decent sea breeze (12 knots) by the time racing started and many of the favourites were near the pin at go. Andy Roy was smokin’ fast in this start and I made up my mind to stay with him. This ended up being a recall. In the next start I was motivated to go hard near the pin again and was near Andy and a number of other favourites. I realized that my speed was good and my height also . I arrived first to the weather mark then sailed too conservatively on the run and rounded third . I fought through the race and was better on the final run , I had a 5 boat length lead down the final reach. Unfortunately I picked up a bag on my rudder and was passed by 2 boats .
Race two I made adjustments and again was pleased with my speed. I won this race with a good gap and felt, as I sailed in that this was one of my best sailed first days at a master’s worlds (nerves had been an issue) My self talk was to execute the game plan without fear. Keep the “what ifs” at bay. Examples are don’t go to the lay line to early and have faith in the decision your making .
Wednesday was slightly lighter wind but again 2 good races. I was a little too conservative in race one but was generally happy with a 4th , Andy won that race. The next race was Andy leading again at the top mark, I snuck into 2nd on the rounding and I sailed smarter on the run and rounded close behind Andy going out to the right. I hung with him (happy with my height) then decided to carry on after Andy tacked , this got me into the lead, I extended down the reach and won race 4 .
So after 2 days Andy Roy ,Tomas Nordqvist, Peter Vessella , Wolfgang Gerz and Nick Harrison were all sailing well and the battle was on for the Championship .
Wednesday there was no racing
Thursday brought again little wind and lots of waiting on the water with one race. This turned into a pivotal race. I started near the pin even though my compass was saying square line, even a bit boat favoured. I never came back from this and with plenty of scrambling ended 10th. Andy sailed a nice race and could have led but a big righty came in late up the first beat, so Tomas won this race . So now we have a close battle for the podium with others ready to pounce.
I decided that generally this race was one that I left the game plan and that I would ignore it and focus on the good races I had sailed .
Friday there was no racing , we actually had a breeze come up but ended up being to unstable and with the 175 Standards, we needed 2 hours to get in before sunset, pressure was building. There were a number of sailors that thought I had it won because the forecast for the last day was poor and no racing after 3.
I kept to the routine and sailed out to the race course Saturday. I will say that the long waits and the broken up regatta between races was difficult and I was pleased that I entered the final race with a positive mind set. I was determined to be on my front foot going hard, same as all the races that I did well in
We had one race with a late moderate sea breeze that was enough for me to be in the hiking strap (always good). I had a midline start that turned into a decent rounding at the weather mark (5th ). I passed Tomas on the run and headed left in 4th with the two leaders well ahead . Tacking on the shifts up the beat (many were going left) , I gained and was close in 3rd with a good gap to the rest of the fleet.
Andy and Tomas now had their own battle going on and I only had to keep my head. I ended 2nd in the race and was relieved that I had not let myself down by sailing poorly, but had risen to the occasion. Andy did what he had to with Tomas ending 2nd overall, Tomas 3rd .
My post mortem for the event is that the psychological aspects of competing are of utmost importance. There are a number of factors that helped me succeed – boat speed and height (when needed), executing quality starts, solid lane sailing tactics on the first beat, aggressive tactics on the run, hitting shifts on the second beat (and remembering that what seemed to work on the first beat doesn’t always work on the 2nd) , pushing hard to the finish .
It was amazing how much nicer it is to have a countryman and friend (Andy Roy) nearby on the race course when I wasn’t sure about a strategy. We fed off each other in terms of confidence, discussing tactics etc. at the end of each day.
Looking forward to the Worlds in Ireland next September
Report from Bill Symes
My wife LauraLee and I have just returned to planet earth from one of the most dramatic sailing venues I’ve experienced in more than half a century of sailing, the Croatian coast. Split, Croatia’s second largest city and site of the 2017 Laser Standard Men’s and Masters World Championships, rises up from the remains of a 3rd century Roman emperor’s palace against a towering backdrop of granite cliffs, facing a cobalt sea and a string of islands surrounded, even in October, by swarms of white sails. Very cool.
We arrived as the guys from the just completed Standard Men’s Worlds (that’s the one for the younger, fitter, full-time sailing crowd) were leaving town, and the city was gearing up for the onslaught of 350 Laser “masters” (minimum age: 35; maximum age: unlimited), their significant others and assorted entourages. We were greeted with a gala opening ceremony on the city’s waterfront promenade – the Riva – complete with welcome speeches by the mayor and various local and Laser Class grandees, live performances by folkloric singers, a really loud audio visual spectacle, and vast quantities of food and beverage (the first of many).
Unfortunately, the wind in Split turned out to be somewhat less robust than the hospitality. We settled into a daily routine of waiting all morning for the offshore breeze to die, then waiting all afternoon for the sea breeze to fill in. The first two days it never did. Racing finally got underway on day three, with each fleet completing three races in light-moderate conditions. The pecking order quickly emerged, with the usual suspects topping the leader board in most divisions.
In the 62-boat Radial Great Grandmasters fleet (65+), I ended the day with finishes of 4-1-16, leaving me in third place behind a couple of Australians, current world champion Rob Lowndes and former world champion Kerry Waraker. Day four produced enough wind for two more races and 4-1 finishes for me. More importantly, I was able to drop the 16th, which boosted me into second, two points shy of the lead. The next day, on a dying breeze and shortened course, I managed a third bullet and moved into a two-point lead.
The forecast for the next couple of days was for no wind and, sure enough, after drifting around for 3 hours on day six, we were sent in without a race. Now the regatta was mine to lose; another abandoned race on the final day would not have been an entirely bad thing. But the race committee was determined, and they sent us out at noon to wait on the water while they prayed for wind. Their prayers were answered at 2:55 pm, five minutes before the deadline for last warning gun. We took off in an 8-knot breeze, and despite my initial anxiety and a mediocre start, the momentum was now on my side, and I was able to work through the fleet and take the race and the championship.
Laser Masters Worlds is like an annual reunion with several hundred of your best sailing buddies, always in some wonderful place you’d have never thought to visit were it not for this event. For masters, the après sailing revelry is just as important as the on-the-water action. Not that the racing isn’t serious business; the field always includes former world champions and Olympic medalists, and the competition at the front of the fleet is intense. There’s a bumper sticker for Laser masters that says “Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser,” and these guys are living it. I can’t think of a better way to go.
(For a full regatta report and results, go to laserinternational.org. For Laser geeks interested in the more technical aspects of the racing, check out an upcoming article in Doug Peckover’s blog Improper Course.)
Greg Jackson may not have been in any of those podium pictures, but I can guarantee he had as good a time as anyone there. Here’s a little video of him talking about the event for a non-sailing crowd. Well worth a chuckle or two.
It is so fun to applaud the success of Northwest racers when they go out in the world! Over the past week we can claim some more of that success, though to anyone who’s been paying attention it won’t come as surprise.
Bill Symes of Portland won the Great Grandmaster aged (65+) Radial fleet in the Laser Master Worlds in Split, Croatia. He did it in convincing fashion, winning four of the seven races, including the last three. Those of us who get to race against Symes know how much he contributes to the sport, what great sportsman he is and how ridiculously consistently fast he is. He is extremely deserving of this win!
Al Clark of Vancouver has coached young Vancouver athletes for several years and has been taking aim at the Master Worlds for many years. He won this year’s Standard Grandmaster (55+) division in a hard-fought battle with fellow Canadian Andy Roy.
And then there’s Diedre Webster, also from Vancouver. She was third in the women’s Great Grandmaster (65+) fleet. But wait, she was the only 75+ woman in the fleet, so that pretty much makes her the winner (a hero) of that class!
I hope to get some first-person details to share in the not-so-distant future.
The Laser Masters Worlds is a truly amazing event. Every year, more than 300 “old folks” get together somewhere in the world to race these deceptively simple, physically brutal, little boats. You can hear swearing in several different languages as one side of the course gets hit by a bad shift. To sail a Laser in breeze at any age is a challenge, to do so when your’re 60, 70 or more is amazing! And at the top of these fleets, the level of skill and fitness is absolute tops.
The Master Worlds is my personally favorite regatta. The sportsmanship and camaraderie is tops, the international aspect is remarkable and racing is always top notch. I was particularly pleased to see the number of women racing at the Worlds this year. It seemed to be more than in years past.
Keith Whittemore loves sailing J/24s on Tuesdays on Lake Washington. He also loves sailing them in Europe. He’s had a great year, first winning the Nationals here in Seattle in May and last week winning the Europeans in Hungary last week with a remarkable comeback win.
According to Whittemore’s emails to his J/24 compatriots, it was light and shifty conditions. On day 2 (?) he had a rough day, having to fight back from a bad start to finish 7th, suffering a black flag DSQ for the second race of the day and then watching the last race (which he was winning) abandoned. Despite all that, he eventually was able to drop the DSQ and rack up three thirds in the last four races to claim victory. Results.
In the meantime, other Seattle J/24 racers were making their mark at the World Championships in Port Credit, Ontario. Mark Laura’s Baba Louie ended up 7th , Scott Milne with Tremendous Slouch finished 10th and Carl Sheath finished 30th in Suspence.
I’m hoping to share some insights from the competitors themselves in the coming days.
There’s no doubt that the 6-Meter Worlds in Vancouver September 15-21 was an extraordinary, red-carpet affair and not really weekend sailor fare. Boats and luminaries were shipped from Europe, boats resuscitated and re-wardrobed, pros were lined up for most of the boats. It’s not often there’s real-life royalty on the start line.
But what’s it like to sail a 6-Meter? I gave a shout to Alex Simanis of Ballard Sails who was main trimmer aboard Bob Cadranell’s Arunga.
“In my spot it was like sailing with sensory deprivation,” he explains. “I didn’t see any of the beats. I was sitting on the floor of the open cockpit tending the mainsheet, runners, traveller and the trim tab. As soon as we’re doing 5 knots you used the trim tab, just a little to make the keel a bit assymetrial going upwind. As the main trimmer you get kicked in the face a few times because you share the space the owner.”
Click on these Nancii Bernard photos to enlarge. I’d highly recommend going to her web site to see the rest of her photos – they provide a great feel for the sailing part of the regatta.
Some of the other things Simanis explained were that there was a real issue with the boats trying to sink themselves when they got going downwind. It was more than the meter-type hull settling deep into displacement mode, it was more like self-destruction. The wing keels on some boats are actually aimed to drive the boat into the water. “We took on a lot of the water – it came over the floorboards. We were pumping with the biggest Whale pump they make!”
And Simanis added that these boats can be handful when it blows. “It’s physical,” he says. The boats usually sail with five. “Twenty knots is about the limit for these boats,” he adds, “After that it just gets stupid.”
Arunga was in the modern class, but the “classic” class was equally competitive. The royalty (HM the King of Spain) won the classic classic race, and the Swiss boat Junior defended her title, but not without controversy. Chris Winnard, who happened to be sailing on Arunga, laid out some of the controversies in this Sailing Anarchy post.
Simanis agreed that things smelled, at the very least, fishy when the hot local Canadian New Sweden was given some questionable redress. “18 boats filed protests, and eventually they just rolled it into one protest with 18 witnesses,” Simanis explained. He added that the program Ben Mumford and Don Marten had put together didn’t really need any help – the boat was well sorted and fast. In the end the redress was not given.
Of course, high falutin or not, it’s still a sailboat race and everyone tries to come away learning a thing or two. The Arunga team, for instance, learned a fair bit about mast rake. They learned they needed a lot more than they’d been using, though in the end had to moderate the change just a bit. The whole “bow down” thing to maximize speed isn’t necessarily the thing to do, as the fast boats were all sheeting in hard and pointing on the beats.
While the real competition is in Europe, this region has a proud history, and present, with 6-Meters. There are several boats in Port Madison, and they often turn up for Seattle buoy races. Then there are the Vancouver boats. With all these boats tuned up after the Worlds, there may be a renewed interest in the class around here.
It would be a great game to play, because while they’re sailed boat for boat, every one is different and needs it’s own customization. Optimizing the boat is certainly a big part of the game. And underway, who wouldn’t like to on that good looking a boat going to weather?
Few if any boats are more beautiful than the narrow, low slung meter boats. I grew up watching some of the ex-America’s Cup 12-Meters like Heritage charging upwind unmolested through those nasty boat-stopping lake waves. It was as sight to behold. And if you spend some time looking at the photos and squint a bit, you can see a bit of the “old” Cup racing.
“I’m a sailor who believes in planing boats, but it’s cool to be sailing part of history,” Simanis says. Even if it means you miss seeing where you are on the race course during the beat.
A few racing events happened over this past weekend in addition to the scholastic event we covered yesterday.
US Offshore Championship
Back on the East Coast a group of local sailors led by John Leitzinger did battle in the US Offshore Championship sailed out of the Naval Academy in Annapolis. While he was runner up in the same event 18 years ago, things weren’t as successful here with a 9th place finish. We’re hoping to get the onboard lowdown from the Northwest boat in the coming days.
There was a Northwest connection to the winning boat Meat representing Chicago. Paul Bersie, who hails from Chicago, reports that her boyfriend Brian Davies is a regular with that team and was onboard for the event. (She would have been there except for her Fisheries Supply duties!) From his view, the Puget Sound team had some bad breaks, but otherwise could have been right up there. An interesting side note, the crew onboard Meat included a 26-week pregnant woman! Bersie reports: “She’d said they kept asking her at the yacht club if she was nauseated from sitting on the spectator boat. Haha! I’m sure she had a great time telling them that she was, in fact, also racing.” Results.
The J/24 Worlds were held in Port Credit, Ontario, with 63 competitors. Northwest competitors again were in the hunt with Mark Laura’s Baba Louie ending up in 7th , Scott Milne with Tremendous Slouch in 10th and Carl Sheath in Suspence in 30th. If any of the skippers or crew want to share some of the story, just email me and I’ll get it online. Results.
This was truly an epic event. There were 45 boats in two classes, “modern” and “classic.” The most “modern” boat was from 1995 and the most classic was from 1928. His Majesty Don Juan Carlos de Borbon from Spain won the classic division. Phillippe Durr won the modern class. The top Northwest boat was Bainbridge Island’s Peter Hofmann in Goose in the classic class. I’m hoping to get some more insight into the event in the days to come. One thing for certain, luminaries were drawn to this events like moths to the light, and while the world ponders its next foiling boat, the elegance, class and competitiveness of this fleet stood out. Results.
Cal 20 Fleet Championship
It may not be king’s boat, but the Tacoma Cal 20 fleet had its Fleet Championship over the weekend in very light winds. The little Lapworth design moves along even in the light stuff and, most importantly, a lot of fun was had.
By now most of us know that Jonathan McKee and Libby Johnson-McKee won the 2017 Tasar Worlds in Japan at the beginning of August. I kept hearing about what a tremendous event it was and was hoping for a “booties in the cockpit” report to share with Northwest sailors (and sailors from all over, really) Mike Karas, who with Molly Jackson finished 7th, graciously offered up these thoughts. For those of you keeping score at home, when you count Jay and Lisa Renehan, that puts three PNW teams in the top 10 of a 97-boat fleet! Here’s Mike:
Simply put, it was one of the best regattas I’ve ever been to. From the level of racing, to the race committee work and social functions, this regatta has set a very high bar in my eyes for all future events.
The racing was tough – physically as well as mentally. With the beats just shy of 1 nm, the total distance sailed per race was around 6nm. Target time for each race was 1 hour, and no elapsed race time for the leaders deviated more than a few minutes off this target. The amazing thing is every day had very different conditions. We raced in every wind speed from 5kts to 22kts.
The temperature was hot and muggy. High humidity made 90 degrees “feel like” 103 degrees at 10:00 in the morning. The water was around 80 degrees, so not too refreshing when you got splashed. The sea-state was usually quite lumpy with a short steep chop.
It’s fun to track Fujin‘s triumphs, even if we don’t get to see her around the PNW. The Bieker-designed boat skippered and owned by Greg Slyngstad is turning a lot of heads, and not just because of her unique bows. Brad Baker of Swiftsure Yachts was once again onboard and shared a few thoughts. Could we be losing Brad to the multihull world? Hopefully not completely. I’ve borrowed a couple photos from Facebook to illustrate the latest Fujin triumph. – KH
It was a great race for Fujin. We set the course record. The sailing was about as good as it can get for the boat and It was a race I won’t forget, that’s for sure. We reached all the way around the course, at times with some awesome sustained speeds in the mid to high 20s. After the start, we did only one gibe and that was at the mark. No tacks! The wind speed ranged from a low of about eight knots up into the low 20s, with a few higher gusts.
The thing that was perfect for Fujin was it was all reaching, spending most the time with true wind angles from 70 to 120. We sailed the 238 mile course in just over 15 hours, nearly a 16-knot average. What’s crazy about that is we had pretty good current against us for most the race, and certainly against at all the narrow passes.
Great group to sail with, I can’t say enough about Greg and the team he has assembled.
For a little more Vineyard race context, the 10 year old course record was was 20 hours, 20 mins. Fujin finished in 15 hours 7 minutes. That was 2.5 hours ahead of the second finisher, a Volvo 70, which will now hold the monohull course record. And thanks to the stellar crew for a nearly flawless effort! After two years racing the boat, we are getting pretty comfortable pushing the boat hard. The weather was ideal for Fujin with a mostly northerly wind blowing across the course in the high teens, low 20s so we spent most of the race sailing at 90-120 TWA with only one jibe at the buzzards bay mark.
Post by Charles Goodrich in Facebook: New Vineyard Race records! Fujin is the first boat to finish, just after 4 AM Saturday, breaking the Vineyard Race course record by more than 5 hours, finishing in 15:06:50 hours. Two other multihulls (Nala and Tribe) and 3 monohulls also broke the record. Congratulations to team Fujin!
The Anacortes-based Melges 24 MiKEY, skippered by Kevin Welch, finished an amazing third in the open fleet Melges 24 Worlds in Helsinki, Finland July 28-August 4. Ian Sloan gives us insights into the event and what it takes to race at that level.
I would say the primary key to success was time in the boat. We shipped our boat to Sweden in April, and sailed the Nordic Championship in Marstrand in June. We sailed six days in Marstrand and came in 4th in that event. It’s an amazing place to sail: windy and quite big seas, and it was very good preparation for the Worlds in Helsinki.
In late June we joined a group of Victoria boats for a two day training session in the Royal Roads area, the venue of the 2018 Worlds. This was a great two days of sailing where we tested a couple of new sails and got to sail on the racecourse of the 2018 Worlds.
Then in July we sailed the North American Championship in the Gorge, one of our favorite places to sail. While the conditions in the Gorge are unlike anyplace else, it is a perfect place for heavy air training. We enjoyed fantastic sailing conditions with another 6 days of sailing. During this event we continued to learn and develop our rig tune and sail setup.
You’d think that after sailing the Melges 24 for eight years we would have it figured out but it’s amazing that nothing is ever set in stone and we continue to learn more and more about getting the boat tuned and balanced correctly. We won the North American Championship beating out some great local teams. It’s really exciting to see the level of sailing here in the PNW continue to improve in all the teams. I always say, it’s not about what level you are currently at, but rather about improvement every time you sail. That’s what keeps teams going.
Two days after returning home from the Gorge we flew to Helsinki to prepare for the Worlds. In Helsinki we enjoyed five days of training prior to the start of racing. We used a couple things we learned at the Gorge to further fine tune our rig setup (of course a different boat and nothing is ever as simple as just “making it the same”!) Again, what we’ve figured out is that setting these boats up is always a moving target, and there are no hard rules how it should be done. There is always something more to get. So, in the two weeks leading into racing we had sailed 11 days. There is nothing more important than time in the boat!
I would say the other primary keys to our success were:
1) No big numbers! It was a primary goal to not have any “shockers” during the event. This is so important in big fleets. We achieved this goal, finishing the event with the best throwout of the regatta, a 19th.
2) Speed. We work tirelessly to constantly improve our speed. Speed makes the tacticians job much easier. There are always gains to be made, and our team has been extremely fastidious about pulling every ounce of boatspeed out of the boat.
3) Never, ever, give up or think you can’t make back a deficit. We were in some extremely difficult positions during the Worlds. The racecourse was very volatile a few days of the regatta, and it was very easy to get frustrated with a poor position or rough shift. We managed to keep our heads screwed on straight and keep fighting till the end, which is a primary reason we didn’t have any really poor finishes (see #1 above).
4) Preparation. We spend an inordinate amount of time going over our boat and our equipment. This resulted in no mechanical or equipment failures, which will end your regatta very quickly. Lucky Dog, a very strong US team, broke not one but TWO jib halyards on day 2 of the regatta and thus they had no chance of a top finish.
5) Dedication. Our team, led by owner Kevin Welch, is extremely dedicated to success. There is never a time we don’t think about how we can improve and how to work towards that end. We are so lucky to have someone as dedicated as Kevin to making this happen. He has provided unwavering support for our team for many years. It was very nice to see his dedication and everyone’s hard work pay off with a podium finish at the Worlds!
Our crew consisted of Kevin Welch, Jason Rhodes, Ross Macdonald, Serena Vilage,Ian Sloan and Jeff Madrigali (coach)
Looking ahead we have the Canadian Nationals in Toronto in September. Then our local PSSC in Seattle in October. In November we will start our winter season in Florida and some longer training sessions down there in the warmer climate… All this is in preparation for the 2018 World Championship in Victoria BC in June next year!
Thanks, Ian, for sharing the story of the Melges 24 Worlds. Once again, it’s great to see PNW sailors “out there” doing well and bringing those lessons home to the rest of us. Ian Sloan owns Anacortes Rigging and Yacht Services.
Craig Horsfield has a whole lot of miles under his various keels, and in various places around the world. Locally to the Salish Sea, he had a successful Olson 30 program with Wild Turkey for several years. He’s done the Cape to Rio Race. Most significantly, he’s completed two Mini Transat races in the Open 650 class. One thing he hadn’t done was cruise with his wife Carolyn and (6 year old) daughter Anna.
That changed this summer when he chartered a Pogo 30 from Fast Downwind Charters. This company specializes in chartering Pogo boats on the Baltic. Having owned a Pogo II Mini, Horsfield was eager to see what they could do with a 30-foot fast cruiser. Joined by Carolyn’s sister Jen and her husband Mark, the crew of five braved the Baltic, cruised some really interesting waters most of us will never see, and got to experience a truly modern fast cruiser. First up, Carolyn on the cruise. Then Craig drools a bit over the Pogo.
The Cruise (Carolyn Hutcheon)
We flew in and out of Hamburg, Germany, which is a 2-hour train ride from Rostock, where the boat was based. Andreas of Fast Downwind Charters picked us up at the train station and we spent the next day going over the boat with him and stocking up on supplies. The dock was was close to a grocery store and restaurants, bars and even a discotheque. But it’s a 1-1.5 hour motor down a dredged channel from the Baltic Sea. At the mouth of the channel is the town of Wärnemunde, where we went for dinner on our first night. With its white sand beaches and old architecture, it was a favorite Communist-era resort town and is still alive with restaurants and shops, cruise ships and summer festivals.
There are many options when sailing out of Rostock and the secret is go where the wind takes you. July and August are the best times to go because the days are long and the winter storms have passed. Unluckily, we arrived right before an unseasonable storm was coming.
If the wind is southwest or easterly then head to the islands south of Fyn, with a stop over in Heiligenhafen. Here are islands to hop and 1000-year old Danish villages to visit, as well as the stunning Alsen-Sund which is well protected in case of rough weather. With a northwest situation, sail up to Copenhagen with a stop over in Klintholm and spend a few days visiting the city. You can then sail around the big Danish islands with their quaint fishing villages, leaving Sweden to your right. This is a longer trip, and requires wind and longer sailing days to cover the distance. It wasn’t in the cards for us this time.
With a storm coming in, we had only 12 hours to sail out and get to safe harbor where we would wait the storm out for the next two days. We decided to sail on the westerly to the island of Hiddensee and the protected waters of the West Rügen Bodden (lagoon) in North Eastern Germany.
The Pogo 30 is fast downwind. It is easily sailed single-handedly, which was good when there is one experienced sailor and 3 (and a half) inexperienced ones.
Everything on the island of Hiddensee is close and accessible by bike or on foot. From Kloster, we spent a morning walking to the neighboring town of Vitte. With the only motorized vehicles on the island being one ambulance and some farm equipment, there was no need to watch for traffic and we could admire the wildflowers and pastures, wetlands, and dunes from along the roadway instead. Visitors can also rent bikes to take them from Kloster to Vitte to Neuendorf.
From the marina in Kloster, it was a 2 km walk to the Dornbusch Lighthouse and the highest point on the island. Along the wooded trail were open areas with wooden sculptures – a bed, a window frame, a giant caterpillar – that put the views across the Vitter Bodden to the Island of Rügen and across the Baltic Sea to Denmark into perspective.
The West Rügen Bodden or lagoons are shallow and ports are accessed through a network of dredged channels that are at least 3.7 m deep. The Pogo 30 has a lifting keel, but even with the keel up it draws 1.05 m. We were hesitant to sail through the shallow waters, and not terribly excited about motoring, so chose instead to take one of the many ferries to the nearby island of Rügen, where we spent a day exploring the village of Schaprode. A longer ferry ride would have taken us to the town of Stralsund, with its eclectic maritime museum and old town UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientic Cultural Organization) heritage site.
With calmer seas, we crossed the Baltic to the village of Klintholm, on the island of Møn in Denmark. As we approached the harbor entrance, we joined what seemed like a caravan of cruising boats. We docked, and watched as the cruising boats kept coming. Klintholm is a popular and convenient stop for Baltic cruisers. Our dock neighbors were a German couple who were heading towards Sweden and were planning to “keep sailing north until they stopped.” There are several restaurants, but we nevertheless took the opportunity to stock up on groceries and herbs from the marina’s free herb garden and had a least one dinner on the marina picnic bench in the long mid-summer twilight.
Klintholm Havn (Harbor) is about 5 km away from the chalk cliffs of Møn, the highest point in Denmark. We rented bicycles at the village grocery store and cycled out to see the cliffs. There is geological museum that we didn’t go into – it was crowded, as were the walkways to and from the beach. More secluded was the walk down to the beach at the base of the cliffs from the Møn lighthouse. Here the cliffs aren’t as tall, but there is room to breathe and to explore.
The days passed too quickly and we were due back in Rostock, so we once more crossed the Baltic Sea to Germany. We sailed back in a light east to south easterly breeze of less than 10 knots. With the code 5 spinnaker and full mainsail, we maintained decent speed.
Compared with other 30 foot cruising boats that I have seen, the Pogo 30 is surprisingly spacious. The boat is wide, with little rocker, which means not only more room below decks, but also no need to add a floor, which adds a few inches of headroom. There are an aft and forward cabins, which provide more than enough room for 4 people. Our 6-year old daughter slept comfortably on a settee in the main cabin; however I don’t know how a grownup would fare. On deck, all of the control lines and halyards are led into the cockpit which makes it easy to change sail configurations, especially with inexperienced crew. An aft cockpit locker provides for easy access to dock lines and fenders.
I was worried that the long mid-summer days would make it difficult for us to sleep, but I shouldn’t have worried. The boat gently rocked me to some of the best sleep that I have had in a long time and no 4 am dawn was going to wake me – or, happily our daughter – up.
I had a nice chat with my old skipper Craig about the Pogo 30. Craig’s experience on the European Mini circuit has certainly opened his eyes to boats seldom seen in the Northwest. Knowing Craig, it’s a rare cruising boat that can get his blood pumping, but the Pogo is clearly one.
“Why don’t they make boats like these in the U.S.?” Horsfield wondered. “It feels like it has the same amount of space as a J/109.” So, the wide angle lenses used in the promotional interior apparently don’t lie, and certainly the cockpit is huge.
“I was surprised at how comfortable it was,” Horsfield added. He and Carolyn took the forward berth, leaving Jen and Mark to take the more comfortable aft cabin. Curtains, not doors, are used to separate the cabins, but that was enough for this hardy bunch. Anna slept on the settee, “but kept falling off.” Happens to the best of us.
While the Baltic is not the warmest place to sail, the dodger and what I’d call “coaming cloths” keep things warm enough for the crew. Craig explained the designers kept the winches on the cabin top, and in fact just about everything can be done from the forward end of the cockpit. And looking at that cockpit, there’s room for everyone, and their friends. The open transom makes getting in and out easy when tied stern-to.
The Fast Downwind Pogo is equipped with the NKE autopilot system, with which Horsfield was familiar from the Minis. These systems are outstanding. It enabled Craig to do everything on the boat, which was necessary as he was the only experienced sailor.
This Pogo had the lifting keel, which meant draft was either 8.2 or 3.4 feet. The keel pivots but remains external to the boat. A hydraulic ram (“the size of my two arms together”) does the heavy lifting with the engine on. There’s a manual backup as well, but that would be a very slow alternative. The boat can motor with the keel in the up position, but obviously stability and efficiency take a hard hit. (NOTE: An earlier version mistakenly said one can sail with the keep in the up position. The manufacturer made it clear this is not the case and could be dangerous.) The double rudders give the boat excellent control, and are really necessary with that much beam at the transom.
Craig fought the temptation to “send it” with the Pogo. With it’s powerful shape, squaretop main and asymmetrical chute, the Pogo can, without a doubt, lay down some impressive miles when reaching. However, Craig reports a top speed of 15 knts running at 150 true in 25-28 knots with a reef in the main and a jib. He also reports she reached comfortably at 10 knots in 25 knots of breeze. “In light air we had fun with the kite moving well in winds above 6- 7 knts,” he reported.
Why run a first person story from a race that was sailed a month ago in a place far, far away? Especially one we’ve covered with Brian Huse’s account of same? Well, this first person is by Paula Bersie, a shipmate of mine and a go-to at Fisheries Supply. Paula moved here from the Midwest, and this was a homecoming of sorts for her. And it’s in one of the great one-design classes, the T-10 (Tartan 10). Every year the T-10s race the 333 miles (statute) as a kind of clump, often finishing overlapped after 60 or more hours of racing. Join Paula for a three day race that includes teeth-rattling conditions, a real and necessary watch system and a close finish. As Paula says, it’s the full regale, but for those of us who’ve raced Macs or are thinking about some distance racing, it’s a wonderful tale. it’s a Here we go:
A Harrowing Mac
This… is NOT a summary of my race. It is a full regale!
The Chicago Yacht Club 2017 Race to Mackinac was certainly a memorable one. Of the 302 boats entered in the race, 99 retired due to breakdowns, injuries, or sickness. 8 out of the original 17 T-10’s on the starting line retired. That is nearly 50% of the fleet. It was a brutal marathon slog all the way to the finish line. “Why do we love sailboat racing again?” was a frequent quote heard on the rail. But in the end, it was totally worth it, and I already know I’ll do it again.
After reviewing the latest forecasts, we finalized our game plan. Head north via the east. It’s not typical to go up the east side of the lake because the weather moves west to east, and usually you want to get to the wind first. In fact, I heard very experienced people say they’ve never done it before. But given the likely weather patterns, it would put us at an advantage once we reached the Manitous.
Our start wasn’t great, but it wasn’t particularly bad either. We were trying for the boat end of the starting line to give us clear air and keep us to the east. That was pretty much everyone else’s plan too. We were closer to the boat than the pin, but we were moving too fast and needed to slow down to not be over the starting line early. We ducked around one or two boats to leeward and ended up in the second row. It was not the start we had wanted, but the Mac is a long race and 333 miles is a great equalizer for 2nd-row starts.
We spent the next 10+ hours trying to shake one of our fellow T-10’s who decided to cover us like we were match racing. It was hard to understand why they were using this tactic in the Mac. The Mac is a marathon and they were slowing both us and themselves down. Every time we went up, they went up. Every time we went down, they went down. We broke away a bit and headed more east, they followed and proceeded to match another boat for a while. Apparently, that boat yelled at them and they made their way back towards us. We managed to create just enough separation to concentrate on working our way up the lake instead of wasting energy on them, but it was an additional unexpected factor that we needed to take into account in our tactics.
The forecast called for a big wind shift to the north right around midnight. After sunset, we discussed the plan to douse the spinnaker so that we would all be ready when the time came. That way, when I went below to get some rest, I knew what to expect if the shift came early and I was called up suddenly.
Of course… I now know that the alarm on my watch doesn’t work, because it didn’t wake me up at 10:45 pm for my 11 pm shift as planned. I don’t want to be “that” person that is late for my shift. Typically someone else is waiting for you to come on deck so they can go below. They are usually tired, cold and in need of a break. Fortunately, since we were racing with 7, I was a floater and an extra hand, so no one was waiting for me.
When I got on deck at 11:15 pm, there was a small-med sized storm cell with lots of lightning over Milwaukee. Gretchen sounded concerned and asked what I thought. It was hard to tell at one glance. If it were moving west to east, we would likely be north of it by the time it reached us. We were headed North Northeast at about 7-8 knots in a southerly breeze. We decided to watch its progress. It didn’t seem to be moving very fast, but the winds gradually picked up.
Not too long after I came up, all hands were on deck. We were piled into the cockpit on a fun downwind scream. However, we knew our douse was imminent. The core of the cell was going to be just south of us, but we couldn’t escape the edge of it. All of a sudden, a big 40-knot puff hit us. With perfect timing, we dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the jib. We were screaming downwind at 10 knots under the jib alone when I announced that the true wind speed had pegged a 52.3-knot gust, which then backed down to 36 knots. John asked me if I ever thought I would say those words and I laughed that no… I didn’t ever think I would ever say those words.
Just a few moments later, around 12:15 am, I heard the DSC alarm and the radio chatter started. I heard only a few words in the high wind, “Dark Horse” and “distress”. Then I heard “Sociable” and “distress, under control”. I have a friend who was sailing on Sociable and started to get concerned. Sara went downstairs to hear the VHF better. We were still listening but hadn’t gotten much more information when another call came through. “Mayday Mayday Mayday, this is the Meridian X, we have a man-overboard“. I also heard “trimaran capsized, four sailors are all accounted for and sitting on the bottom of the boat.“Sara wrote down the GPS coordinates and I pulled up our chart to see how far away the various situations were. It turns out that they were too far away for us to help in any kind of useful time frame and with many other boats closer, we decided to press on. But we kept listening anyway just in case. We were pretty nervous for the sailor who went overboard and wanted to confirm their location. Finally, just after 12:30 am we heard that the Meridian X had found and rescued their crewmate. I can’t tell you how relieved I was and how lucky he was given the conditions. And as I learned later, my friends on Sociable were fine. They had been providing assistance to the trimaran (High Priority 2), whose small handheld VHF radio did not have much range.
After the storm, the wind started clocking a bit to the west, so we decided to leave the jib up and barber-haul it to trim the sail. It felt like we were making good time when I finished my shift at 3 am. I was seeing some lights off to starboard and wondered if it might be Michigan. When I turned on my phone to check, I magically had service in the middle of the lake! I downloaded the latest weather forecasts and checked the race tracker. We were in 1st place!
It wasn’t my alarm that woke me up for my next shift, it was someone yelling “STARBOARD!!”, getting tossed off the bench when we suddenly tacked, and then the subsequent shout of “NOT COOL, Man!” I hadn’t bothered to take off any of my foulies when I went below for a sleep/break, so I just went straight up to see what was going on. It was a completely different scene from when I went below. We were close hauled and healed over on a knife’s edge pounding through 6-10 foot waves coming from multiple directions. The wind was blowing pretty hard, averaging about 30 knots. There was another boat that had also tacked and was now on starboard and headed in the opposite direction. It was just a close enough encounter to be uncomfortably close in such rough conditions.
The next 18 hours were particularly grueling and plodding. We had reefed the main. Gretchen was very seasick and spent almost all of it in a bunk. I called waves and 30-40 knot puffs for so long, I started to lose my voice. I trimmed the main; I traveled down; I trimmed the main; I traveled down. I don’t mind big waves actually, sometimes I pretend that they are roller coasters and did my own little arm wave. But imagine being on that roller coaster for 18 hours straight. It was rough.
We generally stuck pretty close to the eastern shore. The land juts out a bit south of Pentwater, which provided some relief from the worst of the waves. In mid-afternoon, we started to notice a few boats without reefs in their mains. Gretchen was still down for the count, and our combined crew weight on the rail was pretty low. Gretchen, Sara and I are pretty small women. I outweigh the two of them by a lot at 135 lbs. Mark and John are not big guys. Peter is tall, so likely has some weight for leverage on the rail, and Tom has some muscle but is also not huge. Tom was driving for much of the time, and he was still having trouble in the puffs. But the wind had diminished a bit, likely averaging 20-25 knots with puffs maybe up to 30. We started to notice another T-10 was moving up on us. It was Monitor, and they did not have a reef in their main. We called all hands up on deck around 5:00 pm. Even Gretchen, who immediately got sick again was sitting on the rail. In hindsight, we probably should have shaken our reef out sooner, but Monitor ended up passing us at about 5:30 pm.
By sunset that evening, we were still beating upwind trying to keep Monitor in our sights. The sky had finally cleared, and it seemed like the perfect conditions to see the elusive green flash that people say happens just as the sun sets. When I blinked I saw little sunspots behind my eyelids as I intently watched the horizon. I was hoping to finally see it for the first time ever. But alas… that unicorn is still out there for me.
After the sunset, I went below to try to get a little rest. The day had been pretty rough on the boat, and one of the benches ripped out of its hinges leaving only 3 benches for crew members to lie on. They were all full. Not having a blanket, or a place to lie down, I propped myself between the two benches and fell asleep sitting up. At some point, one of my crewmates got up for his shift and I managed to get an hour sleep in the bunk. He even put a blanket on top of me. It was glorious.
When I went up for my next shift it was very dark, and there was a bit of confusion. There was a high beam spotlight making sweeps across the channel and a bunch of chatter on the VHF between the Manitowoc Ferry and a sailboat. We had also just tacked. It was to avoid the ferry. The reasons you have crew shifts in a race is because fresh rested eyes can make more sense of the seemingly random patterns. What my crewmates didn’t realize is that the ferry wasn’t talking to us; it was a different sailboat a few miles away. I saw the ferry and watched. We were definitely not in its path. There were no red/green navigation lights. It was headed away from us.
Another source of confusion is where the South Manitou buoy was. It marks the northern side of the channel heading inside the Manitou islands. You can go outside and around the islands, but it adds a lot of miles to your race. You either have to know that the wind will be significantly better outside the islands to go there or be taking a flyer to catch up. Therefore figuring out where the channel starts is important. I’m not sure why this is a difficult buoy to find, but every year it seems to be a struggle. After consulting the charts and methodically checking each light with our binoculars, we found the buoy and went inside the Manitous.
Once the drama of the ferry and finding the buoy calmed down, I had time to look up. Star gazing on the night shift is one of my favorite parts of the race. The Milky Way did not disappoint. Being so far from the light pollution of a city allows the cloudy mix of stars to shine brightly. The northern lights glowed. They weren’t the shimmering dancing ribbons that you see in pictures, it was more of a warm blush in the sky, but pretty nonetheless. There were shooting stars that lasted 10 seconds or more. I made a wish on every one.
As you navigate at night, you are constantly monitoring the lights on the water around you for boats, navigational aids, etc… When I looked to the east, I saw the strangest sight. It was a huge orange shark fin. I was like “What the hell is that?!” In my sleep deprived state, it took me just a moment too long to realize I wasn’t hallucinating, and that it was the moon rising. It was spectacular. A perfect crescent shape, it looked exactly like the drawings of the man in the moon except for the fact that it was blood orange. He was peacefully looking over us and the rest of the night was uneventful.
Once again, I was woken up at about 6:30 am by a tack, but this time it was much much slower and the boat was much much flatter. I emerged from the cabin into the morning sunlight still wearing my full foulies and everyone immediately started making fun of me, but I was still cold. There was no wind. We were moving maybe 0.8 knots (on the GPS, the speed through the water read 0.0 knots of speed) and the sun was already shining brightly. I warmed up quickly and proceeded to peel the layers off and lay them in the sun to dry. The most important of which was my shoes and socks. My feet were soaking wet and had been for about 48 hours at this point.
I find that the 2 am to 6 am shift is one of the hardest, and the crew who were awake were tired. It was very light wind conditions at that point. Sailing in those conditions requires a tremendous amount of patience that is hard to muster when energy is waning so far into the race, especially after the day before when we were beating upwind for over 18 hours. We hadn’t moved very far since I went down to sleep around 3 am. We were still just to the east of the north side of North Manitou Island. I have had the benefit of sailing with some fantastic sailors in my life. One thing I’ve learned from them is that if you are not moving, at LEAST point the boat towards the finish line until you can find some wind. We were pointing at the north end of North Manitou Island. After I pointed that out, Mark said, “Why don’t you take over driving for a while.”
I slowly turned us to at least point towards the finish line, stopped moving the tiller so much and immediately started looking for signs of where the breeze was coming from. I looked for tree fuzzies in the wind. I looked on the water to check for the tiniest of ripples. I tried to see if the insects were generally coming from one direction in particular. I paid attention to the small hairs on my face. We started moving incrementally better, but still very very slowly.
Our plan had been to stay close to the Manitous because the wind was predicted to be better on that side of the channel, but we were pointed away from North Manitou Island. I didn’t want to turn back. We were getting the faintest of ripples of wind and I just wanted to keep the boat moving. The wind looked better ahead of us and looked worse behind. Peter saw one tiny little cloud over Leland on the mainland and expressed a hope that it was a sign of an early sea breeze forming over on the mainland. It was a bit prophetic. Soon, we were getting small fingers of light wind and those little clouds started to multiply. Someone observed that those little clouds are like magic. You never see them form but you blink, and another one just appears out of thin air! By the time I gave up the tiller, we were moving around 3.5 knots towards Gray’s Reef and were ahead of the rest of the fleet by 6 miles.
It became an almost idyllic day for sailing. We had all of our gear spread out all over the deck to dry. It looked like a garage sale. It was sunny and warm without being hot. There was enough wind to keep the flies at bay and was blowing enough to keep us moving in the right direction. Mark and John, who weathered most of the steering and tactics, both got several hours of uninterrupted sleep. It was enough to brighten everyone’s spirits for the final push to the finish line.
In the late afternoon, as time inched towards sunset, the wind started dying again. We had our binoculars out and Yellowbrick tracking, trying to figure out if there was more wind on the other side and if our competition was gaining on us. I had a borderline manic moment right as the wind was dying, where I gave a “pep talk” to the crew about light wind racing and this being the point where we could lose the race. Quite rightly, John brought it all back down to earth. Tom surprised us with the best looking sandwich I’ve ever seen on the Mac. It was a full baguette covered with layers of lettuce, sliced tomatoes, salami, roast beef, ham and horseradish cheese covered in oil and vinegar. We all felt much better for eating it. I must have been hungry.
Our biggest tactical decision throughout the afternoon and evening was when to tack and consolidate back to the rest of the fleet. It was a tough call. We ended up tacking four times. Our wind was light and shifty. Had we stuck to just 2 tacks, we may have arrived at the better and more consistent wind before our competitors. But in the moment, you just can’t know for sure and hindsight is 20/20.
Of the three nights, the sunset on Monday was by far the most spectacular. You need clouds on the horizon to have a proper sunset. They are something for the sun’s rays to bounce off of. Sunset on Sunday didn’t have any clouds at all. The swirls of high cirrus clouds that reached towards us with the lower and puffier nimbus clouds marching in a row just underneath them provided multiple layers from which the light could reflect and bounce.
Just after sunset, Mark asked me to take the helm again. It was hard. The transition between daytime, dusk and then nighttime is a very tricky one. In general, I need a reference point. Something I can use to keep my heading.
As the sun set, I kept losing my reference point and I’ve learned that it takes me a while to transition to solely using the compass to steer. I am not naturally good at steering by the compass, and soon Mark (quite rightly) took the reigns back.
In the middle of the channel, there is a small island/shoal called Ile Aux Galets. On it is a lighthouse called Skilagallee to warn vessels to avoid the area. The charts indicate that there is a green navigation can with a 9-second flashing light on the northwest side and a red navigation buoy with a 2-second flashing light on the northeast side. With all of the navigation buoys around, it’s pretty tough to tell what’s what. At least the lighthouse was easily recognizable. I identified the red buoy marking the shoal to the northeast, but couldn’t find the green 9-second flashing can to the northwest of the shoal. We had to make a decision as to whether we would go to starboard or port of Skilagallee soon. The wind essentially made it for us. It had gone south and was inching toward the southeast. This put us at a disadvantage to our competitors. They were coming in on a starboard tack on a fast reach. We were coming in pretty low and not moving as fast. There was a buoy in the place of the green 9-second flasher, but it was a red flasher which is why we didn’t recognize it. We skirted just inside of it after I checked the charts and our course and determined it was definitely deep enough for us to not hit bottom.
We hardly had to change course at all to make it straight down Gray’s Reef from that point, but the damage from the inopportune wind shift was already done. Both Erica and Monitor consolidated in front of us just before the Grays Reef Light.
We were still under spinnaker, and our next decision was whether or not we would be able to hold the sail after leaving New Shoal Lighted Bell Buoy 3 to starboard. I scanned the fleet ahead of us as they rounded the mark. Not one of them was carrying a spin. We decided that we wouldn’t be able to either.
As I was scanning for spinnakers, I saw a freighter heading down the straights towards the channel. We were about ¾ of a mile past the reef by the time it made the turn. I was very glad that we were past the channel when it went through, it can be harried in those close quarters at night under sail when going through with a freighter. Both Monitor and Erica would have definitely gotten away from us if we were also battling with the freighter.
When you start down the straits you expect to see the Mackinac Bridge, but sometimes weather can cloud it from view. At night in clear skies, however, you can see the lights from pretty far away. Seeing that bridge is very emotional. It marks the final leg of a very long race and you get the impression that you are nearly done. I almost always get a bit teary-eyed with relief when I finally see it. But that bridge is still 20 miles away and a lot can happen in those 20 miles, so it is important to not lose focus because you are ready to be done.
On the drag race down the Straits of Mackinac, we started to creep up on Erica. Monitor was really hard to see as their masthead stern lights were very very dim. It was hard to tell if we were making progress on them as well or not. They had both gone higher, presumably to be able to set the spinnaker and come into the bridge on a reach. We stayed lower and were, therefore, sailing faster. Our rationale was that you never win a race by following the leader. We had been using a light on our jib to see the telltales, which makes it easier to trim the sail, but also harder to be inconspicuous in the dark. We finally got to the point where we thought we could carry the spin and turned off our lights. We were hoping that we could be sneaky and set our spin before Erica, but I heard from them after the race that they were watching our light anticipating that moment. In the end, we were definitely not sneaky. We were pretty loud, and when we got settled, Erica had also set their spin and were pulling away a bit again on a better angle.
We passed under the Mackinac Bridge just before 4 am a little less than a half mile behind Monitor and Erica, who were nearly on top of each other. The sky was just starting to lighten up, and we could see them more clearly.
Passing under the bridge is always exciting. If you sail the course, you know you won’t hit the bridge. But it looks like you are going to hit the bridge and a favorite Mackinac newbie joke is to pretend that it is possible to take out your mast to freak them out. There are countless gorgeous pictures out there from sailors taken under the bridge.
The wind typically changes after the bridge. We were able to sail higher and we were catching up to Monitor and Erica who were battling each other and sailing lower. It turned out that there was just a bit more wind coming in from Lake Huron. As Erica tried to get around Monitor we were sneaking up on them fast. It was a super close finish, but we managed to pick off Erica and finish in 2nd place only 12 seconds behind Monitor. If we’d had another 100 ft, we could have pulled off the upset. In the end, Erica was only 13 seconds behind us. It’s amazing that we sailed 333 miles and it came down to only a few feet!
It was an exciting and brutal race, but I felt great about how we sailed and how we finished! It was my first time on the podium on the Mac race. Obviously, there is a lot of skill that goes into a race like this, but there is also a significant amount of luck. I have friends who race on Erica and they did an awesome job. I was sad that they had to take 3rd for us to take 2nd. It was a bit of luck that the wind filled in exactly where we needed it to in order to get in front of them. They worked hard and deserved their place on the podium.
I had an awesome time and even though it was a really difficult race, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I want to thank the entire crew of Retention, but especially Mark for having me. You are all awesome people and great sailors. I wouldn’t hesitate to race with every single one of you again. Thank you so much, Mark Croll, Gretchen Croll, John Croll, Sara Otto, Tom Carney, and Peter Dubois!!
If you want to read more of Paula’s adventures, visit her blog.